Paul's Discourse on the Use of Head Coverings During Public Worship.
An Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
By Richard Bacon
Copyright 1997 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett


1 Corinthians 11:2-16: "Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God."

It is important when we examine any passage of Scripture that we place it in the proper historical and textual situation; that is, in its proper context. We need to understand what has gone before the passage, and also what follows. As the saying goes, "a text without a context is a pretext."

Liberty of Conscience

Paul, in writing the first epistle to the Corinthians, wrote it with the intention of correcting several abuses at the church in Corinth. In the three chapters preceding this passage (chapters 8-10), he dealt with the general subject of Christian liberty. Christian liberty is the freedom we have as Christians, and Paul taught us how we are to handle that liberty in the context of the communion of the saints. In our Christian liberty, we are always to defer to the weaker brother’s conscience. Paul declared that if his eating meat caused a brother to stumble then he would refrain from eating meat "as long as the world stands" (1 Corinthians 8:13).

There is never a time when we are free to trample the conscience of a brother. The law of love bounds our Christian liberty. Because we love a brother we refrain from anything that could cause him to stumble. Please notice that Paul did not say that we are to refrain "if our actions displease a brother." That is altogether different. Many things may displease a brother. Doing that which is necessary and right may displease a brother. That is not the issue. Paul defined an offense by asking these questions: Is it going to cause him to stumble in his walk with Christ? Is it going to cause him to proceed against his conscience? That was what Paul meant by an offense.

Public Worship

Let us put 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 in the proper context. Paul said in verse 33 of the previous chapter, "Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved." He then continued that statement in verse 1 of chapter 11 by adding, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." 1 Corinthians 11:1 is a transitional verse. Starting at verse 2 Paul began to deal with various ordinances of public worship. From 1 Corinthians 11 verse 11 through the end of chapter 14, Paul continued to deal with behavior in public worship. Chapter 13 is an excursus in which he showed that even the gifts of the Spirit must be exercised in such a way that they, too, are bounded by the law of love. So chapters 11, 12, 13 and 14, concern public worship and its abuses. Therefore, we must understand that in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Paul was explaining behavior in public worship.

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

In chapter 11 we find two things about propriety in worship or what might be called decorum in worship. The first has to do with the relationship between men and women in worship and the second has to do with our relationships with respect to the Lord’s Supper. In both cases Paul said that there has been something that has been delivered to him, and he then passed it along as an apostolic tradition. In the first instance we find (in verse two) "remember me in all things and keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you." If we go on to the section on the Lord’s Supper (in verse 23), we find, "For I have received of the Lord that which also I have delivered unto you." So there is an apostolic "reception" of truth and there is an apostolic "passing along" of truth: a παραδοσις, if you will. In both cases we must deal both with propriety in worship and with apostolic injunctions.

Not an Easy Passage.

Having situated the passage in the context of apostolic injunctions on proper church behavior, it must be admitted from the outset that this is not an easy passage to understand. It is a passage that has stirred up considerable controversy especially in the last twenty-five to fifty years. As a difficult passage it has been used as a ‘proof text’ for all manner of false doctrine and behavior. That is why it is necessary to view the entire discourse and situate the passage in its overall context in order to understand it correctly.

"Woman’s Bible Commentary," after referring to those "chaotic verses" in 1 Corinthians 11, claims that "while this is certainly Pauline," nevertheless Paul’s arguments are "inarticulate, incomprehensible and inconsistent." While it would be wrong to suggest that this is an easy passage, nevertheless at the end of this study, I trust it shall be demonstrated that rather than being "inarticulate, incomprehensible and inconsistent" Paul was perfectly articulate, comprehensible and consistent. Paul articulates quite well the mind of Christ regarding the position of women and men in the public worship assembly.

The Scope of the Passage

Verses 2 and 16 form discursive "bookends" for the passage. These verses hold the passage together as bookends on a bookshelf hold certain books together. In verse 2 it is clear that we are to keep the ordinances "as I delivered them to you," and in verse 16 we read that "if any man seems to be disputatious" (or contentious), "we have no such custom, neither the churches of God."

Outline of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

1. The Question of Headship (v. 3)

2. Headship Related to Worship Practice (vs. 4-5a)

3. How this is Shameful (vs. 5b-6)

4. Reasons Why There Has to be a Difference (vs. 7-9)

5. Authority and Angels (v. 10)

6. Creation in the Lord (vs. 11-12)

7. The Natural Order of Things (vs. 14-15)

8. The Question Decided... Judge for Yourselves (vs. 13, 16)

I propose that these two bookends form a section that deals with how women should cover themselves in the churches of God. This section of Scripture does not deal with how women are to cover themselves outside the churches of God. There may be differing opinions on the subject of headcovering outside the churches of God, and differing opinions are permitted because Scripture does not speak to the subject — certainly not in this passage. However, in this passage we do have specific instructions on how a woman is to dress and how a man is to dress in the public assembly. The first table above gives a conceptual outline of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

1. The Question of Headship.

We should look at the question of headship first because that is where Paul began. In verse 3 he explained the foundational issue as being one of headship. In Table 1 you will see that the phrase "the head" is used three times in this verse.

Table 1

1. The Question of Headship (1 Corinthians 11:3)

[The Head]* [of every man] [is Christ]

[The Head]* [of the woman] [is the man]

[The Head]* [of Christ] [is God]

* The term "head" or κεφαλη means "authority," not "source."

The Greek word that is used for "man" in this verse is not the word that means "mankind in general." The word that is used here is not the Greek word ανθρωπος which means "mankind in general," but the Greek word ανηρ, which means "a man" as opposed to a woman, or "a husband" as opposed to a wife. When Paul speaks here of the ανηρ and of the γυνη, the word used for "woman," he is speaking about males and females; he is not speaking of mankind in general. He is talking about the difference between the sexes.

Also in verse 3 Paul said something very significant. "I want you to know …." He did not say, "Here is my opinion …." He did not say, "I have taken a poll and a lot of people think…" He did not say, "Dr. Gamaliel reported that Rabbi Shammai said …." Rather Paul declared, "I want you to know …." He stated, "I want you to have some certainty about this subject." He gave apostolic authority to his statements. "I want you to know something and here is what I want you to know ¾ the head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is man and the head of Christ is God."

Notice that there is only one "person" in the passage who does not have a "head" and that person is God. "The head of every man is Christ," "the head of the woman is the man," and "the head of Christ is God." The word that is used here for "head" is the Greek word kefalè. This Greek word does not mean "head" in the sense that a river has a head — the "source" of the river. Rather the word here for "head" is that which is "chief," that which is "in charge." Paul used a play on words in the passage on the word "head" meaning first the physical head and then "head" meaning the one who is in charge. Before this play on words can be understood, it is necessary to know that the word κεφαλη does not mean "source" but that it means "authority." There is not a commentary more than about twenty years old, which, in discussing 1 Corinthians 11:3, claims that the word κεφαλη means "source." That is a fairly recent rendering of the Greek.

Wayne Grudum, who has an excellent command of Greek sources, claims that there are 2,336 extant examples in Greek literature outside the New Testament of the word κεφαλη being used in Attic and Koinè and Ionic Greek. In none of the 2,336 is there a convincing example of the word κεφαλη meaning "source." Nearly four hundred years prior to the writing of the New Testament there are two examples in which κεφαλη could be interpreted to mean "source." These are the only two times out of 2,336 extant examples of that word and they are doubtful. We must conclude that the word here κεφαλη means "authority." It means that the man is the "authority" of the woman, Christ is the "authority" of the man, and God is the "authority" of Christ. The idea of it meaning "source" comes from the egalitarian feminist bias of those pushing that agenda in the church today.

In 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 — the same epistle written by the same apostle — Paul said, "Then cometh the end when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power …." Notice the Lord will put down Rule, Authority, and Power. "For He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death for He hath put all things under His feet, for when He sayeth, ‘all things are put under Him’ it is manifest that He is accepted which did put all things under Him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all." This is the same concept here in 1 Corinthians 15 that we see in chapter 11. God himself is the "authority" over Christ who in turn ‘reigns and rules’ over everything! The same idea is carried throughout Paul’s writings.

In Ephesians 5:23-25 Paul taught that same relationship and even used the same parallel to illustrate it. "For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, and He is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it." One of the important things that Paul taught here is that, like our Christian liberty, so the law of love bounds this Christian authority. Even the authority that a husband has over his wife is hemmed in by the love that the husband is to have for the wife. It is a loving authority, but nevertheless it is a true authority. Paul concluded in verse 33, "Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself and the wife see that she reverence her husband."

We have tried to demonstrate so far that the concept of Christian authority is not unique to this passage. It is a Pauline teaching that can be found not only in other Corinthian passages but also in others of his epistles. In Ephesians 5:23 we found the language of "authority" and the language of "submission." There is one who is the authority in the church and the church is to submit to him. There is one who is in authority in a marriage and the wife is to submit to him. That is the same parallel brought out in 1 Corinthians 11:3, "the head of every man is Christ," that is to say "the authority of every man is Christ;" therefore the man is to submit to Christ. "The head of the woman is the man," therefore the woman is to submit to the man. "The head of Christ is God," therefore Christ as we saw in 1 Corinthians 15 finally delivers up the kingdom to God so that "God may be all in all." In these first few verses of the passage, Paul laid a foundation. He set forth a concept from which everything else will follow. He used the word "head" in two ways in this passage: in both a literal way and in a figurative way. In verse 4 and the first half of verse 5, the "play on words" takes place.

2. Headship Related to Worship Practice.

1 Corinthians 11:4 states that "Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head." If we were going to be very wooden-literal in our translation it would read, "having something down from his head." What is the play on words here? If a man has a veil hanging down from his physical head then he dishonors his authoritative head. Verse 3 explains that Christ is the head of the man. Therefore, if a man prays with a veil hanging down from his head he dishonors Christ. To continue in verse 5 we read that every woman who prays or prophesies, with an uncovered head, shames her head or dishonors her head. See Table 2.

Table 2

2. Headship Related to Worship Practice (1 Corinthians 11:4-5a)

[Man prays or prophesies] [with something down from his head] [shames his head]

[Woman prays or prophesies] [with head uncovered] [shames her head]

The parallel is this: when a man prays or prophesies with his head covered he dishonors his head, that is Christ. When a woman prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, she dishonors her head, her husband. At this point we should ask the question: Covered with what? Paul has not discussed that yet. Some people often jump immediately from here to verse 15, deciding Paul meant a covering of hair. We will not make that mistake. We must deal with the discourse the way in which Paul wrote it, drawing from it the lesson that Paul intended for us to learn, without imposing our own views upon the passage. Another question arises, Is he speaking only to wives? I do not think so. I believe he is speaking to anyone who has reached the age of puberty. I think he is speaking to those females who might be regarded as "women."

It might also be asked, "If one woman does not wear a covering on her head does that mean that she is shaming every man in the congregation?" No, I would not say that. However, Paul is laying out a general principle for us here. That general principle is that women pray and prophesy with their heads covered and men pray and prophesy with their heads uncovered. The issue here is not so much marriage as it is to how women dress in church. It is certainly true of wives, but it is also true of all women in the church.

Let us consider the question, "Covered with what?" Whatever it was, the people to whom Paul was writing knew what it was. I do not believe that the women of the Corinthian church would have had as much trouble understanding this passage as we might have today. I realize that there are numerous books explaining to us what life was like in the first century. The fact is, we know more about what life was like in Corinth in the first century from the pages of the New Testament than we do from any other source. In fact, almost one hundred percent of what we know about life in Corinth we learn from the pages of the New Testament. It was evident to the women in Corinth how to cover themselves.

It was also evident to the women in Corinth what the significance and shame was of a shaved head. They knew the shame that comes upon someone who is covered as a male and who is uncovered as a female. The shame does not come directly upon them, but comes upon their head, the one who is in authority over them. In the case of the man the shame does not come directly upon him if he covers his head. It comes instead upon Christ. In the case of a woman also if her head is uncovered the shame does not come directly upon her, but upon her husband. The one who is in authority over her is shamed. Paul explained that if a woman is uncovered there is a shame involved. In the later half of verse 5, Paul stated that the shame involved is the same as if she had a shaved head. Paul said, "… for that is even all one as if she were shaven."

In the springtime the sheep shearers take the sheep that have grown huge coats of wool during the winter and with larger clippers, they shave it all off. That huge woolly looking sheep is all of a sudden a skinny looking little thing, looking as though it is going to totter and fall. It is shorn or shaved. That is the word used by Paul here. It is altogether the same as if she had a "buzz" haircut. Not only that, but he used a command to do that to the woman. What a strange thing! But that is the command. Let us look at that under part three, "How This is Shameful" in verses 5b and 6.

3. How this is Shameful.

"She is one and the same with her who is shaved" or "is all one as if she were shaven. For if a woman does not cover herself, let her have her hair cut off." This is jussive command. Look at the commands on the right side of Table 3. There is a condition. This is called a "simple conditional clause." It means that the "if" clause, the protasis, is considered true for the sake of argument. Paul said, "Let us consider the case of a woman who is uncovered." What follows from that is a jussive command ¾ "Let her also have her hair cut off." In English we do not have the particular form of speech of a jussive command, and so the "permissive" is used. Understand, however, that Paul did not simply give her permission to get a haircut. He said, "This ought to be done."

Table 3

3. How this is Shameful (1 Corinthians 11:5b-6)

[For if a woman] [does not cover herself] [let her also have her hair cut off]

[if a woman] [has her hair cut off] [let her cover herself]

A jussive is a "third person command." In English we have a first person command in what we call a cohortative ¾ "Let us do that." There is also an imperative, which is a second person command ¾ "You do that." This is very much like the command in James 5:13b where James said, "Is any among you merry," not "let him sing the psalms" but, "he should psalm," ψαλλετω. It is a jussive command and it means, "he needs to do this; this is the right thing to do in this case!" If something happens, then this is the command that fits that case. Therefore, if the woman is uncovered, she is supposed to be shaved! "But," Paul said, "I know you Corinthian women already know that it is a shame for a woman to be shaved," so he continued in verse six, "but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven," (and it is) then "let her be covered." The idea of shaving here is to take a razor and remove what little hair was left by the "buzz" haircut. "If it is a shame for a woman to have her hair cut, or to have her head shaved, then let her cover herself." That is also a command.

Paul assumed that the women knew that it was a shame for their heads to be shaved. We could carry on lengthy speculations as to why the Corinthian women considered it a shame. Perhaps they thought she looked like an adulteress. Perhaps they thought an uncovered woman was usurping authority. Many things have been suggested, and the merits of each shall not be explored. We do not have the time to explore each one. Whatever the reason, it is a certainty that the Corinthian women regarded it to be a shame. However, these are not merely sociological issues. Paul assumed that shaved heads were shameful and he assumed that uncovered heads in public worship on the part of women were just as shameful. He did not say that it was shameful for a man to have a bald head or a shaved head, but he did assume that it was shameful for that to be the case for a woman. And if it is the case, then he commanded "let her be covered," or "she should be covered."

4. Reasons why there must be a difference.

In verses 7-9 we have the reasons given as to why there must be a difference. Notice the nearly poetic structure of this passage. Not only is Paul not inarticulate; he has become so eloquent at this point that he is almost writing poetry. Look at Table 4A. Paul wrote, "For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God. But the woman," [χχχχ] "is the glory of man." This is a figure of speech we call an ellipsis, that is to say, something has been left out. This is very common not only in Greek poetry but in English poetry as well. "For a man ought not to have his head covered since he is the image and glory of God. But the woman, [χχχχ] …." What goes in the blank? If a man "ought not to have his head covered" what goes right below that statement to fill in the [χχχχ] in Table 4A?

Table 4A

4. A. Reasons Why There Has to be a Difference (1 Corinthians 11:7-9)

[a man] [head uncovered] [he is the image and glory of God.]

[But the woman] [ χχχχ ] [she is the glory of man.]

The answer is obviously that she should be covered. Why ought a man not to have his head covered? What is the reason that Paul gave? Because he is the image and glory of God. God’s glory is to be uncovered in worship. This is so important that the entire passage is going to be brought together at the end on this very basis: God’s glory alone is to be seen in the public worship service. The reason he "ought not to have his head covered" is that he "is the image and glory of God." It follows that anything that brings glory to anything or anybody other than to God ought to be covered! "But the woman is the glory of man." Therefore we cover the glory of man. This passage implicitly commands us to cover the glory of man and to uncover the glory of God! Consider the brilliance of this argument! Paul argued in these verses that this involves more than just a relationship of man to woman. It certainly involves that, but the matter also involves the relationship that our worship has toward God. God’s glory is to be uncovered and man’s glory is to be covered in public worship.

See Table 4B. "For man is not out of woman, but woman out of man" (1 Corinthians 11:8) Once again Paul is talking about the priority of women and men. There is a chiastic structure here. The structure is A-B-B-A; man-woman-woman-man. Again, where do we find chiasms? In poetry! Paul is practically writing poetry here! He is not inarticulate; he is quite eloquent.

Table 4B

4. B. Reasons Why There Has to be a Difference

(1 Corinthians 11:7-9)

[For man] [is not out of] [woman]

[But woman] [out of] [man]

[And for man] [was not created] [for the woman]

[But woman] [for the man]

Chiastic Structure

man (A) woman (B)
woman (B) man (A)

Related Scriptures:

Deuteronomy 22:5 Genesis 1:27

Genesis 2:18 Genesis 2:22

Genesis 5:1-2

In verse 8, Paul stated, "Man is not out of woman, but woman is out of man." Paul referred back to the fact that the original woman was made from the rib of a man (Genesis 2:22). The man has precedence because the man was created first. "Man was not created for the woman, but woman for the man" (1 Corinthians 11:9) The two things that he referred to in both of these passages are the precedence of man because of his prior creation and the fact that man was not created to be a help for woman. In Genesis 2:20, we read that woman was created to be a help for man, "an help meet for him." Adam was given the original task. The woman was made as a helper to him. Therefore man has precedence (headship) because of his prior creation and he has precedence (headship) because of the purpose of her creation. She was created for the very purpose of helping him. How can she not accept him as her "head?"

In Deuteronomy 22:5, we see that God claims authority over the way we dress. This passage also has something to do with the way we are covered or are uncovered in worship. "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God." God cares if a woman dresses like a man. God cares if a man dresses like a woman. He hates it! It is an abomination to him.

In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul did not say that the woman is not the image of God. He said, however, that there is a distinction to be made between male and female. The male, Adam, was the original creation. Genesis 1:27 explains that, "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." We read virtually the same thing in Genesis 5:1-2, "God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; Male and female created he them." Notice in the Corinthian passage how glory and honor are tied together. It is not simply the "image of God" that God sees when he looks down on a worship service, but his glory as well. When God looks on a church worship service he sees little images of himself worshipping him. And if the worshippers are regenerate he sees little images of Christ filled with the Holy Ghost worshipping him. However, man is in a particular way the glory of God. If a man puts on a woman’s headgear and dresses like a woman, it disgraces Christ. In what sense does such a thing disgrace Christ? It is an abomination to God. Look in verses 14 and 15a, "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering." We are going to deal with the second half of verse 15 later in our discussion, but now we need to deal with 15a. In verse 15a Paul explained that, if we know that the man is the glory of Christ or the glory of God, and if the woman is the glory of man, then the glory of the woman is her hair. Her hair is given to her for her glory. If we are going to cover every glory except God’s glory in our worship services, we are not only going to have to cover the head of the woman, we are going to have to cover the hair of the woman as well. Why? Because not only is the glory of man not to show in worship, neither is the glory of woman.

Proverbs 12:4 contains an interesting concept about a wife and her relationship to her husband. There we read: "A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband." A crown is worn on one’s head. His wife is his crown, his glory. His wife is that which shows him to be the king, that which shows forth his majesty. She is to be covered, because his glory, his majesty, his crown, his kingly estate is his wife. But if she makes him ashamed she is like "as rottenness to his bones" (Proverbs 12:4b). How does a wife make her husband ashamed? In the worship service she makes her head ashamed by uncovering her head. This is the same parallel. As you can see, this is a teaching not just of Paul but one that we find in various places of Scripture. Paul went on to adduce still more reasons.

Paul was not inconsistent in the Corinthian passage. Paul was not teaching first one thing and then another. He was not teaching first, "Let them be covered with a fabric cover" and then "Let them be covered with their hair, because their hair is covering enough." Paul was not being inconsistent. Paul was not being inarticulate. He certainly was not incomprehensible. If he were incomprehensible the feminists would not hate this passage so much. The problem that the feminists have with this passage is that Paul was altogether too comprehensible for their comfort. Many times as my wife and daughter and I have visited churches in which head covering of women is not practiced, there is a class of women who just glare at my wife and daughter when they sat down in the worship assembly with their heads covered. Why? Because they know what it means. There is no doubt in their minds what a covered woman in the worship assembly means. It means that here is a woman who has accepted a biblical role with respect to her husband, and in the case of a daughter, a woman who has accepted a biblical role with respect to her father.

Let us move on to 1 Corinthians 11:10. "For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels." This is a difficult verse to understand. First we need to discuss what the term "angels" does not mean. It very clearly does not mean that a woman ought to have a symbol of authority upon her head because that is the way everyone else does it. Paul did not say that a woman ought to have a symbol of authority upon her head because otherwise the Corinthian prostitutes will be offended. He did not say that a woman ought to have authority upon her head because otherwise the Greek men might think that the women were available for dating. Whatever the term "angels" means, it does not say that. Paul was not making a cultural argument! He was making an argument that had to do specifically with beings that are intimately related to God’s ministry and redemption.

5. Authority and Angels

First of all, angels are messengers from God in heaven to his church on earth appearing at the most critical points in the history of redemption. This, of course, is not the only time that the angels appear, but it is the first thing we need to know about angels. See Table 5A.

Table 5A

5. Authority and Angels (1 Corinthians 11:10)

A. The Reformed View of Angels

(1) Angels are messengers from God in heaven to his church on earth appearing at the most critical points in the history of redemption.

(Luke 2:13-14, Matthew 28:5-6, Acts 1:10-11)

In Luke 2:13-14, the "herald angels" cried out regarding the birth of Christ. In Matthew 28:5-6, "the angel answered and said to the woman" at the tomb, "Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay." Christ’s birth and resurrection were witnessed to by angels. So too his ascension in Acts 1:10-11, "While they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven."

Table 5B

5. Authority and Angels (1 Corinthians 11:10)

A. The Reformed View of Angels

(2) There are angels whose business it is to guard the people of God and their children.

(Psalm 91:11, Matthew 18:10)

Second, there are angels whose business it is to guard the people of God and their children. See Table 5B. There is such a thing as a "guardian angel." Please do not think of those "Precious Moments" statuettes, or fat little babies with wings flying around. Angels are terrible creatures, marvelous creatures, wonderful creatures, whose business it is to guard the people of God and their children. Psalm 91:11, "He shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways." Matthew 18:10, "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven."

Table 5C

5. Authority and Angels (1 Corinthians 11:10)

A. The Reformed View of Angels

(3) There is a sense in which the angels observe what is happening on the earth, at least in the life of the church and the lives of his saints. (Luke 15:10, Ephesians 3:10)

Third, there is a sense in which the angels observe what is happening on the earth at least in the life of the church and in the life of his saints. See Table 5C. In Luke 15:10, "Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." So in the life of the church, when a sinner repents, there is joy among angels. There is joy "in the presence of the angels of God." Ephesians 3:10, "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God." The "principalities and powers in the heavenly places" we understand may very well be these angels. See too Hebrews 12:22.

Fourth, the angels are the reapers in the great harvest at the end of the world. See Table 5D. Matthew 13:40-42, "As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so also shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." We must stop for a moment and consider these verses. If this is the context of the authority being on a woman "because of the angels," so that the angels will not pluck out of the kingdom those "things that offend" and cause "weeping and gnashing of teeth," is that not reason enough to have heads covered in worship? Is there need to adduce further reasons? In Matthew 24:31, "He shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." This teaches that there is not only a "plucking out" of that which offends, but there is also a "harvesting" of the elect.

Table 5D

5. Authority and Angels (1 Corinthians 11:10)

A. The Reformed View of Angels

(4) The angels are reapers in the great harvest at the end of the world.

(Matthew 13:40-42, Matthew 24:31)

Finally, we must notice that there is a change worked in the relationship between the angels and mankind due to the great victory that Christ achieved as Captain of our salvation. See Table 5E. "Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they" (Hebrews 1:4). Notice in 1 Corinthians 6:3, there is a promise that man shall judge the angels. "Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?" The angels being spoken of here in the same book (1 Corinthians) are beings that do not pertain to this life. If we are to judge angels "how much more things that pertain to this life?" Paul is making a distinction between things that do and do not pertain to this life. How is this related to chapter eleven?

Table 5E

5. Authority and Angels (1 Corinthians 11:10)

A. The Reformed View of Angels

(5). Finally, we must notice that there is a change worked in the relationship between the angels and us due to the great victory that Christ achieved as Captain of our salvation.

(Hebrews 1:4, 1 Corinthians 6:3)

First, we need to understand that whatever it is that a woman has on her head, it is a symbol of authority. It makes no sense to think of hair as a symbol of authority. Whatever that symbol is, it is a symbol of authority! Whatever it is that she has on her head, it indicates somebody’s authority: either hers or someone else’s. It is also visible. If you can see it, you can see that there is authority on this person. If it symbolizes authority, then it must be something you can see, a visible symbol of authority. We have symbols of authority showing us the benefits of Christ’s death. These are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both of these symbols are visible. Baptism is a visible symbol of authority and the Lord’s Supper is a visible symbol of authority. The question originally was; "In what sense either in this passage or anywhere else are we given the slightest idea that hair is a symbol of authority?" My point is that if women have a symbol of authority on their heads, it must be other than hair because no where in this passage are we given the slightest indication that "hair" might be a symbol of authority. There is one verse where "hair" is called a "covering," which I will discuss later.

See Table 5F. Hebrews 12:22 really kind of "says it all." Hebrews 12:21, "And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake." Moses came to a very fearful place. "But ye are come to Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels." When we come to Mount Zion; when we come to the worship service; when we gather together in an assembly; not only do we gather with God, not only do we gather with others of God’s saints, we also gather with "an innumerable company of angels." In Isaiah 6:2, we read that the angels are covered as they worship God. In this passage, Paul arguing from the greater to the lesser. He explained that if angels are covered in the presence of God, then so ought woman’s glory to be covered in the presence of God.

Table 5F

5. Authority and Angels (1 Corinthians 11:10)

B. How Related to this Passage?

A symbol of authority. Whose?

The angels are related:

Hebrews 1:14 1 Corinthians 4:9 1 Corinthians 6:3

Ephesians 2:6 Hebrews 12:22

There are several other places we need to examine very briefly. Revelation 2:1, "Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write;" verse 8, "And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write;" verse 12, "And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write;" verse 18, "And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write;" Revelation 3:1, "And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write;" verse 7, "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write;" and in verse 14, "And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write." In each of these seven churches in Asia Minor, there was an office or a person who was referred to as "the angel" of that church. It probably was either a pastor or an elder, but it may have been a supernatural spirit. I personally do not think it was a supernatural spirit, because I do not think that they have need of writing. I think that the pastors and elders of these churches would have that need. The Greek word used here is aggelos, which can be translated "ministering messengers," "angels," or "deputies." The word aggelos means "a messenger or deputy." The word means one who delivers a message. It does not matter which of these translations it is. Do we know what the meaning of "angels" is in the Corinthian passage? It does not really matter. In each of these instances, each was associated with the Church. Whether it is an innumerable company of supernatural spirits or whether it is a supernatural spirit in charge of a particular congregation or whether it is a pastor or a ruling elder in each instance, it is associated with the Church. Just as 1 Corinthians 11:2, 11:10 and 11:16 also associate this practice with the Church; with the assembling together of the saints.

6. Creation in the Lord.

Verse 11 states, "Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord." Why did Paul bring this up? For the same reason he brought up the responsibility of the man to love his wife in Ephesians chapter 5. If he did not bring this up, there are some men who would treat their wives like dirt. Men, that is the way we are. Men would do that. Men would take advantage of their wives if Paul did not very carefully circumscribe their authority with the law of love. This is not simply a bare authority but a loving authority. There is a mutual dependence between man and woman.

Paul continued in verses 11 and 12, "Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God." Woman came forth from the man; men come forth from the woman. Each is the source of the other. This is why it was so important to understand that the meaning of "head" is "authority" and not "source." See Table 6. In creation the woman came from the man, and the man is therefore the source of the woman on earth. In reproduction, the man as a male child comes from the woman, and the woman is therefore the source of the man on earth. But the source of all things, both man and woman, as well as everything else, is the Lord in heaven. The Creator in heaven is "he who created all things." Verse 12, "For as the woman is of the man, even so the man also by the woman; but all things are from God (or of God)." This overcomes any possibility of a pagan or Gentile distortion of headship. Neither the man nor the woman should consider himself or herself independent of the other.

Table 6

6. Creation in the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:11-12)

[ neither woman without man] [Nor man without woman] [in the Lord]

[woman is from man] [man is born of woman] [and all things are from God.]


Source of woman: Source of man: Source of all things:

[Creation on earth] [Reproduction on earth] [Creator in heaven]

Let us look at verses 14 and 15. I am going to skip over verse 13 because I am going to discuss verses 13 and 16 together later. Looking at the discourse itself, it seems to me that verses 14 and 15 are parenthetical. At the end of verse 13 Paul asked, "Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?" Then he went on to ask other questions, which I believe were parenthetical to help lead the Corinthian Christians to a proper answer to the question in verse 13.

7. The Natural Order of Things.

See Table 7. In verse 14, Paul asks, "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?" It is a shame to "himself." In verse 15, "But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering." Her hair is a glory "to her," to herself. We need to understand that if a man has long hair, he is not shaming his head, he is shaming himself. If he would cover his head with fabric, then he would shame his head, Christ. But if he grows long hair he shames himself. If a woman uncovers her head she is shaming her husband; if she has long hair, she is glorifying herself. Here is the significant thing. Paul has explained three glories: the glory of God, the glory of man and the glory of woman. God does not share his glory with another. In the worship service, therefore, God’s glory alone is to be seen. God’s glory alone is to be uncovered. But who is the glory of God? The man. The glory and image of God is the man, the anèr. But man’s glory is to be covered. Who is man’s glory? The woman. She is to be covered. But in what sense is she to be covered? Her glory, also, must be covered. But where is her glory found? In her hair. So her hair must be covered.

Table 7

7. The Natural Order of Things (1 Corinthians 11:14-15)

[nature teaches you] [a man has long hair] [it is a shame to him]

[but] [a woman has long hair ] [it is a glory to her]

[Reason:] [her hair is given to her for a covering.]

We must make this statement. The hair of a woman cannot be both the glory and that which covers the glory! "A" is not "non-A." Nothing can be both "A" and "non-A" at the same time and in the same way. Paul taught us that the object which is the glory cannot also cover the glory! And he taught us that only God’s glory is to be seen in the worship service.

We must now try to understand verse 15, "But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering." Why is a woman’s hair a glory to her? Because her hair is given to her as a "covering." The word that is used in verse 15 for "covering" is not the same word used in verse 6 for "covering." The word that is used for "covering" or "veil" in verse 6, kaluma, comes from the Greek word katakalupto, "to cover." The word in verse 15 is peribolaiou which is "a shawl, a wraparound" (peri, around, ballo, to throw) or a wrap. The Greek words that are both translated into English as covering are two very different words. If the words were the same then some could say that Paul is being inconsistent here. But the words are not the same.

8. The Question Decided.

Verses 14 and 15 form a parenthetic statement between the question in verse 13 and the answer given in verse 16. See Table 8A. The question in verse 13 was "Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?" The question was, "Is it comely?" Verse 16, "If any man seem to be contentious (or disputatious), we have no such custom." No such custom as what? No such custom as a woman praying to God uncovered. The custom Paul mentioned was not that of being disputatious. True, we have no such custom as being disputatious either, but that was not Paul’s point. Paul’s point was that we have no such custom as a woman praying to God uncovered in the public worship.

Table 8A

8. The Question Decided... Judge for Yourselves (1 Corinthians 11:13, 16)

A. Verses 14 - 15 form a parenthetic statement between the question in verse 13 and the answer given in verse 16. The question, "is it comely..." The answer; "we have no such custom..."

See Table 8B. Is a woman praying covered culturally bound custom? Was that what Paul meant by "custom?" When Paul said, "We have no such custom" was he talking about something that was culturally bound to ancient Corinth? There is not a single indication in the passage that Paul’s intent was to appeal to custom at Corinth.

Table 8B

8. The Question Decided... Judge for Yourselves

(1 Corinthians 11:13, 16)

B. Is this a "culturally bound" custom? There is not a single indication in the passage that Paul's intent is to appeal to the custom at Corinth. What about the covering being a symbol of authority on her head? Why did Paul refer back to the creation order?

What about the covering being a symbol of authority on her head? What kind of authority is it to which hair speaks? As already indicated, all that a woman has to do is walk into an assembly with her head covered where there are feminists present and it will be clear what that covering means. Why did Paul refer back to the creation order if this is simply a cultural custom? Why did Paul go all the way back to creation in Genesis chapters 1, 2 and 5 if this is simply something that has to do with the culture in Corinth? I think that these are questions that feminists have yet to answer.

See Table 8C. The woman’s glory, that is her hair (in verse 15), must be covered in worship. The man’s glory, that is the woman (in verse 7), must be covered in worship. Thus only God’s glory, which is the man (in verse 7), is uncovered in worship. God will not share his glory with another (Isaiah 48:11); thus both the man’s glory and the woman’s glory must be covered. But if the man’s glory is covered, where is the covering worn? On the woman’s head. But if the woman’s glory is covered, where is the covering worn? It is worn on the woman’s head. Paul wrote about a fabric covering that covers both the man’s glory and the woman’s glory, so that the only glory that is evidenced (uncovered) in the worship service is the glory of God. This can only be accomplished when both the head and the hair of the woman are covered.

Table 8C

8. The Question Decided... Judge for Yourselves (1 Corinthians 11:13, 16)

C. Her glory (her hair, v. 15) must be covered in worship. His glory (the woman, v.7) must be covered in worship.

Thus only God's glory (the man, v.7) is uncovered in worship. God will not share His glory with another. Thus both man's and woman's glory must be covered. This is accomplished when the hair and head of the woman are covered.

See Table 8D. This passage does not speak directly to the question as to whether a woman may pray in public. The passage does not speak directly to the question that either the woman ought or ought not to pray or prophesy in public. That subject is handled very clearly in 1 Corinthians 14:33 and following. But the passage we are discussing does not speak to the subject.

Concluding Remarks

We have essentially done a discourse analysis of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. If we look at the entirety of the discourse, by the time we get to verse 15 we will find out that any other interpretation of verse 15 does not make any sense. The reason that one may think that Paul is inarticulate or inconsistent is because he is imposing his view on the passage, rather than Paul’s view. It is the one who objects to this passage who is inarticulate and inconsistent. It is this author’s contention, which has yet to be disproved, that every commentary claiming that the covering was hair has been written since the rise of egalitarian feminism.

Table 8D

8. The Question Decided... Judge for Yourselves

(1 Corinthians 11:13, 16)

D. This passage does not speak directly to the question as to whether women may pray when they are not doing so as the voice of one, but are being led in congregational prayer by the worship leader. They also prophesy when they sing the Word of God.

Page Last Updated: 01/10/08 01:55:05 PM

Public Worship to be Preferred before Private.
By David Clarkson
The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Psalm 87:2

The Text as edited, Copyright 1997 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett
See a PDF file of this article in The Blue Banner, v8#7-8.

That we may apprehend the meaning of these words, and so thereupon raise some edifying observation, we must inquire into the reason why the Lord is said to love the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. This being manifest, the words will be clear.

Now the reason we may find assigned by the Lord himself, Deut. 12:5-6, 11. The gates of Zion was the place which the Lord had chosen to cause his name to dwell there, i.e. as the following words explain, the place of his worship. For the temple was built upon, or near to, the hill of Zion. And this, you know, was in peculiar the settled place of his worship. It was the Lord’s delight in affection to his worship, for which he is said to love the gates of Zion, more than all the dwellings of Jacob.

But it may be replied, the Lord had worship, not only in the gates of Zion, in the temple, but also in the dwellings of Jacob. We cannot suppose that all the posterity of Jacob would neglect the worship of God in their families; no doubt the faithful among them resolved with Joshua, "I and my house will serve the Lord." Since, therefore, the worship of God was to be found in both, how can this worship be the reason why one should be preferred before the other? Sure upon no other account but this, the worship of God in the gates of Zion was public, his worship in the dwellings of Jacob was private. So that, in fine, the Lord may be said to love the gates of Zion before all the dwellings of Jacob, because he prefers public worship before private. He loved all the dwellings of Jacob, wherein he was worshipped privately; but the gates of Zion he loved more than all the dwellings of Jacob, for there he was publicly worshipped. Hence we have a clear ground for this:

Observation. Public worship is to be preferred before private. So it is by the Lord, so it should be by his people. So it was under the law, so it must be under the gospel. Indeed, there is difference between the public worship under the law and gospel in respect of a circumstance, viz., the place of public worship. Under the law, the place of public worship was holy, but we have no reason so to account any place of public worship under the gospel; and this will be manifest, if both we inquire what were the grounds of that legal holiness in the tabernacle or temple, and withal observe that none of them can be applied to any place of worship under the gospel.

1. The temple and tabernacle was [set] apart, and separated for a holy use, by the special express command of God, Deut. 12:13, 11. But there is no such command for setting apart this or that place under the gospel. The worship is necessary, but the place where is indifferent, undetermined; it is left to human prudence to choose what place may be most convenient. We find no obliging rule, but that in general, "Let all things be done decently and in order." Men’s consecrations cannot make that holy which God’s institution does not sanctify.

2. The temple was pars cultus, a part of the ceremonial worship under the law, but there is no such ceremonial worship under the gospel, much less is any place a part of gospel-worship; and therefore no such holiness in any place now as in the temple then.

3. The temple was medium cultus, a means of grace, of worship, under the law. Thereby the Lord communicated to those people many mysteries of religion and godliness; thereby was Christ represented in his natures, offices, benefits. but there is no place under the gospel of such use and virtue now; no such representations of Christ, or communications of religious mysteries by any place of worship whatever; ergo, no such holiness.

4. The temple was a type of Christ, John 2:19; but all the shadows and types of Christ did vanish when Christ himself appeared; and there is no room for them in any place under the gospel.

5. The temple did sanctify the offerings, the services of that people. The altar did sanctify the gift, Mat. 23:19. The worship there tendered was more acceptable, more available, than elsewhere, as being the only place where the Lord would accept those ceremonial services, as also because there is no acceptance but in Christ, who was hereby typified. But these being ceased, to think now that our worship or service of God will be sanctified by the place where they are performed, or more available or acceptable in one place than another, merely for the place’s sake, is a conceit without Scripture, and so superstitious; nay, against Scripture, and so profane. The prophet foretold this: Mal. 1:11, "In every place incense shall be offered unto my name;" in every place, one as well as another, without distinction. The Lord Christ determines this in his discourse, John 4:21. The hour is at hand when all such respects shall be taken away, and all places made alike, and you and your services as acceptable in every place of the world as at Jerusalem. Hence the apostle’s advice, 1 Tim. 2:8, "I will that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands," not in this or that place only. And the promise of Christ is answerable, Mat. 18:20. He says not, when two or three are gathered together in such a place, but only "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them," Observable is that of Origen upon Matthew, Tract. 35, Vir quidem Judaicus non dubitat de hujusmodi, A Jew indeed doubts not but one place is more holy than another for prayer, but he that has left Jewish fables for Christ’s doctrine doth say that the place doth not make one prayer better than another. So in Homil. 5. on Levit., Locum sanctum in terris non requiro positum, sed in corde, I seek no holy place on earth, but in the heart. This we must take for the holy place rather (quam si putemus structuram lapidum) than a building of stones. So Augustine, Quid supplicaturus Deo locum sanctum requiris, &c., When thou hast a mind to pray, why dost thou inquire after a holy place? Superstition had not yet so blinded the world but these ancients could see reason to disclaim that holiness of places which after-ages fancied. And well were it if such superstitious conceits were not rooted in some amongst us. Those who have a mind to see, may, by what has been delivered, discern how groundless that opinion is. But I must insist no longer on it.

Hence it appears that there is a circumstantial difference betwixt the public worship of God under the law and under the gospel. But this can be no ground to conclude that public worship is not to be preferred before private, as well under the gospel as under the law; for the difference is but in circumstance (the place of worship), and this circumstance but ceremonial (a ceremonial holiness); whereas all be moral reasons why public worship should be preferred before private, stand good as well under the gospel as under the law.

But before I proceed to confirm the observation, let me briefly explain what worship is public. Three things are requisite that worship may be public: ordinances, an assembly, and an officer.

1. There must be such ordinances as do require or will admit of public use; such are prayer, praises, the word read, expounded, or preached. and the administration of the sacraments. The word must be read, and prayer is necessary both in secret and private, but they both admit of public use, and the use of them in public is required and enjoined. These must be used both publicly and privately; the other cannot be used duly but in public.

2. There must be an assembly, a congregation joined in the use of these ordinances. The worship of one or two cannot be public worship. Of what numbers it must consist we need not determine; but since what is done in a family is but private, there should be a concurrence of more than constitute an ordinary family.

3. There must be an officer. The administrator of the ordinances must be one of public quality, one in office, one set apart by the Lord, and called to the employment by the church. If a private person in ordinary cases undertake to preach the word or administer the sacraments, if it be allowed as worship, which is not according to ordinary rule, yet there is no reason to expect the blessing, the advantage, the privilege of public worship.

This for explication; now for confirmation. Observe these arguments.

1. The Lord is more glorified by public worship than private. God is then glorified by us when we acknowledge that he is glorious. And he is most glorified when this acknowledgment is most public. This is obvious. A public acknowledgment of the worth and excellency of any one tends more to his honor than that which is private or secret. It was more for David’s honor that the multitude did celebrate his victory, 1 Sam. 18:7, than if a particular person had acknowledged it only in private. Hence the psalmist, when he would have the glory of God most amply declared, contents not himself with a private acknowledgment, but summons all the earth to praise him, Ps. 96:1-3. Then is the Lord most glorified, when his glory is most declared, and then it is most declared when it is declared by most, by a multitude. David shows the way whereby God may be most glorified, Ps. 22:22, 23, 25. Then he appears all glorious when publicly magnified, when he is praised in the great congregation. Then he is most glorified when a multitude speaks of and to his glory: Ps. 29:9, "In his temple does every one speak of his glory." The Lord complains as if he had no honor from his people, when his public worship is despised, neglected: Mal. 1:6, "If I be a father, where is mine honor? If I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord God of hosts unto you, O priests that despise my name." By name of God here is meant his worship and ordinances, as plainly appears by what follows, ver. 7, 8, 11. And he here expostulates with them as tendering him no honor, because they despised his worship and ordinances. Then shall Christ be most glorified, when he shall be admired in all them that believe, in that great assembly at the last day, 2 Thess. 1:10. And it holds in proportion now; the more there are who join together in praising, admiring, and worshipping him, the more he is glorified: and therefore more in public than in private.

2. There is more of the Lord’s presence in public worship than in private. He is present with his people in the use of public ordinances in a more especial manner, more effectually, constantly, intimately.

For the first, see Exod. 20:24. After he had given instructions for his public worship, he adds, "In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee." Where I am publicly worshipped, for the name of God is frequently put for the worship of God, I will come; and not empty-handed, I will bless thee: a comprehensive word, including all that is desirable, all that tends to the happiness of those that worship him. Here is the efficacy.

For the constancy of his presence, see Mat. 28: "I am with you always to the end of the world." Where, after he had given order for the administration of public ordinances, he concludes with that sweet encouragement to the use of them, pasas tas hemeras, I am with you always, every day, and that to the end of the world. Here is the constancy.

See the intimacy of his presence: Mat. 18:20, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." He says not, I am near them, or with them, or about them, but in the midst of them; as much intimacy as can be expressed. And so he is described, Rev. 1:13, to be in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, in the midst of the church; there he walks and there he dwells; not only with them, but in them. For so the apostle, 2 Cor. 6:16, renders that of Lev. 26:12, which promise he made, upon presupposal of his tabernacle, his public worship amongst them, ver. 11. Hence it is, that when the public worship of God is taken from a people, then God is departed, his presence is gone; as she, when the ark was taken from the Israelites, cried out, "The glory is departed." And why, but because the Lord, who is the glory of his people, is then departed? Public ordinances are the sign, the pledge of God’s presence; and in the use of them, he does in a special manner manifest himself present.

But you will say, Is not the Lord present with his servants when they worship him in private? It is true; but so much of his presence is not vouchsafed, nor ordinarily enjoyed, in private as in public. If the experience of any find it otherwise, they have cause to fear the Lord is angry, they have given him some distaste, some offense; if they find him not most, where ordinarily he is most to be found, and this is in public ordinances, for the Lord is most there where he is most engaged to be, but he has engaged himself to be most there where most of his people are. The Lord has engaged to be with every particular saint, but when the particulars are joined in public worship, there are all the engagements united together. The Lord engages himself to let forth as it were, a stream of his comfortable, quickening presence to every particular person that fears him, but when many of these particulars join together to worship God, then these several streams are united and meet in one. So that the presence of God, which, enjoyed in private, is but a stream, in public becomes a river, a river that makes glad the city of God. The Lord has a dish for every particular soul that truly serves him; but when many particulars meet together, there is a variety, a confluence, a multitude of dishes. The presence of the Lord in public worship makes it a spiritual feast, and so it is expressed, Isa. 25:6. There is, you see, more of God’s presence in public worship, ergo public worship is to be preferred before private.

3. Here are the clearest manifestations of God. Here he manifests himself more than in private, ergo public worship is to be preferred before private. Why was Judah called a valley of vision, but because the Lord manifested himself to that people in public ordinances? Which he not vouchsafing to other nations, they are said to ‘sit in darkness, and in the valley of the shadow of death." Here are the visions of peace, of love, of life; and blessed are those eyes that effectually see them. Here are the clearest visions of the beauty, the glory, the power of God, that can be looked for, till we see him face to face. David saw as much of God in secret as could then be expected, but he expected more in public, and, therefore, as not satisfied with his private enjoyments, he breathes and longs after the public ordinances, for this reason, that he might have clearer discoveries of the Lord there: Ps. 27:4, "One thing have I desired, and that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life." Why did he affect this, as the one thing above all desirable? Why, but to behold the beauty of the Lord? &c. So, Ps. 63:1-2, though David was in a wilderness, a dry and thirsty land, where was no water, yet he did not so much thirst after outward refreshments as after the public ordinances; and why? "To see thy power and thy glory," If we observe how Christ is represented when he is said to be in the midst of the churches, we may thereby know what discoveries of Christ are made in the assemblies of his people, Rev. 1:13, &c.

Clothed with a garment down to the foot. That was the priests’ habit. Here is the priestly office of Christ, the fountain of all the saints’ comfort and enjoyments.

Girt about the paps with a golden girdle. This was the garb of a conqueror. So Christ is set forth as victorious over all his people’s enemies.

His head and hairs white like wool. Here is his eternity; whiteness is the emblem of it. Therefore, when the Lord is expressed as eternal, he is called the Ancient of days.

His eyes as a flame of fire. Here is his omniscience; nothing can be hid from his eye. The flame scatters darkness, and consumes or penetrates whatever to us might be an impediment of sight.

His feet like to fine brass. Here is his power; to crush all opposers of his glory and his people’s happiness; they can no more withstand him, than earthen vessels can endure the force of brass.

His voice as the sound of many waters. Here his voice is most loud and powerful; so powerful, as it can make the deaf to hear, and raise the dead out of the grave of sin. His voice in private is a still voice, here it is as the sound of many waters.

He had in his right hand seven stars. Here is his providence, his tender care of his messengers, the ministers of the gospel, the administrators of public ordinances; he holds them in his hand, his right hand, and all the violence of the world, all the powers of darkness, cannot pluck them thence.

Out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. His word publicly preached, sharper than a two-edged sword, as described, Heb. 4:12-13, pierces the heart, searches the soul, wounds the conscience. With this Christ goes on, conquering and to conquer, maugre all opposition.

His countenance was as the sun that shineth in his strength. Here the face of Christ is unveiled, the fountain of light and life, the seat of beauty and glory, such as outshines the sun in his full strength. So he appears, as he becomes the love, the delight, the admiration, the happiness, of every one whose eyes are opened to behold him.

Now, as he is here described in the midst of the churches, so does he in effect appear in the assemblies of his people. No such clear, such comfortable, such effectual representations of the power and wisdom, of the love and beauty, of the glory and majesty of Christ, as in the public ordinances: "We all here, as with open face, behold the glory of the Lord."

4. There is more spiritual advantage to be got in the use of public ordinances than in private, ergo they are to be preferred. Whatever spiritual benefit is to be found in private duties, that, and much more, may be expected from public ordinances when duly improved. There is more spiritual light and life, more strength and growth, more comfort and soul refreshment. When the spouse (the church) inquires of Christ where she might find comfort and soul nourishment, food and rest, he directs her to public ordinances: Cant. 1:7-8, "Go by the footsteps of the flock," walk in the path of God’s ancient people. And feed the kids beside the shepherds’ tents. Shepherds are (in the phrase of the New Testament) pastors or teachers, those to whom the Lord has committed the administration of his public ordinances. To them is the church directed for food and rest, for spiritual comfort and nourishment; and it is commended to her as the known way of the whole flock, that flock whereof Christ is chief shepherd.

That is a pregnant place for this purpose, Eph. 4, where the apostle declares the end why the Lord Christ gave public officers, and consequently public ordinances he gave them, ver. 12, "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." Here is edification, even to perfection: ver. 13, "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." Here is knowledge and unity, even in a conformity to Christ: ver. 14, "That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive." There is strength and stability, maugre all the sleight and craftiness of seducers: ver. 15, "But speaking the truth in love, may grow up unto him in all things, which is the head, even Christ." There is growth and fruitfulness, and that in all things. These are the ends for which the Lord Jesus gave his church public officers and ordinances; and they will never fail of these ends if we fail not in the use of them. What more can be desired? Here doubts are best resolved, darkness scattered, and temptations most effectually vanquished. David had private helps as well as we, but how strangely did a temptation prevail against him, till he went into the sanctuary: Ps. 73:16-17, "When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end." Nothing was effectual to vanquish this temptation, till he went into the sanctuary. Thus you see there is more spiritual advantage in public worship than in private, and therefore it is to be preferred.

5. Public worship is more edifying than private, ergo, &c. In private you provide for your own good, but in public you do good both to yourselves and others. And that is a received rule, Bonurn, quo communius, eo melius, that good is best which is most diffusive, most communicative. Example has the force of a motive; we may stir up others by our example: Zech. 8:20-21, "There shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts." This was frequent with David: Ps. 34:3, "Oh magnify the Lord with me, let us exalt his name together ;" Ps. 96:7-8, "Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name." Live coals, if ye separate them, and lay them asunder, will quickly die; but while they are continued together, they serve to continue heat in one another. We may quicken one another, while we join together in worshipping God; but deadness, coldness, or lukewarmness may seize upon the people of God, if they forsake the assembling of themselves together. It is more edifying; therefore to be preferred.

6. Public ordinances are a better security against apostasy than private, and therefore to be preferred: an argument worthy our observation in these backsliding times. He that wants the public ordinances, whatever private means he enjoy, is in danger of apostasy. David was as much in the private duties of God’s worship as any, while he was in banishment; yet, because he was thereby deprived of the public ordinances, he looked upon himself as in great danger of idolatry. Which is plain from his speech, 1 Sam. 26:19, "They have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of the Lord, saying, Go serve other gods." There was none about Saul so profane as to say expressly unto him, Go serve other gods. Why then does he thus charge them? Why, but because by banishing him from the inheritance of the Lord, and the public ordinances, which were the best part of that inheritance, they exposed him to temptations which might draw him to idolatry, and deprive him of that which was his great security against it. They might as well have said plainly, Go and serve other gods, as drive him out from the public worship of the true God, which he accounted the sovereign preservative from idolatry.

But we have too many instances nearer home to confirm this. Is not the rejecting of public ordinances the great step to the woeful apostasies amongst us? Who is there falls off from the truth and holiness of the gospel into licentious opinions and practices, that has not first fallen off from the public ordinances? Who is there in these times that has made shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, who has not first cast the public worship of God overboard? The sad issue of forsaking the public assemblies (too visible in the apostasy of divers professors) should teach us this truth, that public ordinances are the great security against apostasy, a greater security than private duties, and therefore to be preferred.

For this end were they given, that we might not be tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, Eph. 4:14. No wonder if those that reject the means fall so woefully short of the end; no wonder if they be tossed to and fro, till they have nothing left but wind and froth. This was the means which Christ prescribed to the church, that she might not turn aside to the flocks of those companions, hypocrites, or idolaters: Cant. 1, "Feed by the shepherds’ tents." No wonder if those who shun those tents become a prey to wolves and foxes, to seducers and the destroyer. Public ordinances are a more effectual means to preserve from apostasy, and therefore to be preferred before private.

7. Here the Lord works his greatest works; greater works than ordinarily he works by private means, ergo. The most wonderful things that are now done on earth are wrought in the public ordinances, though the commonness and spiritualness of them makes them seem less wonderful. It is true, we call not conversion and regeneration miracles, but they come nearest to miracles of anything that is not so called. Here the Lord speaks life unto dry bones, and raises dead souls out of the grave and sepulcher of sin, wherein they have lain putrefying many years. Here the dead hear the voice of the Son of God and his messengers, and those that hear do live. Here he gives sight to those that are born blind; it is the effect of the gospel preached to open the eyes of sinners, and to turn them from darkness to light. Here he cures diseased souls with a word, which are otherwise incurable by the utmost help of men and angels. He sends forth his word, and heals them; it is no more with him but speaking the word, and they are made whole. Here He dispossesses Satan, and casts unclean spirits out of the souls of sinners that have been long possessed by them. Here he over-throws principalities and powers, vanquishes the powers of darkness, and causes Satan to fall from heaven like lightning. Here he turns the whole course of nature in the souls of sinners, makes old things pass away, and all things become new. Wonders these are, and would be so accounted, were they not the common work of the public ministry. It is true indeed, the Lord has not confined himself to work these wonderful things only in public; yet the public ministry is the only ordinary means whereby be works them. And since his greatest works are wrought ordinarily by public ordinances, and not in private, therefore we should value and esteem the public ordinances before private duties.

8. Public worship is the nearest resemblance of heaven, therefore to be preferred. In heaven, so far as the Scripture describes it to us, there is nothing done in private, nothing in secret, all the worship of that glorious company is public. The innumerable company of angels, and the church of the firstborn, make up one general assembly in the heavenly Jerusalem, Heb. 12:22, 23. They make one glorious congregation, and so jointly together sing the praises of him that sits on the throne, and the praises of the Lamb, and continue employed in this public worship to eternity.

9. The examples of the most renowned servants of God, who have preferred public worship before private, is a sufficient argument. It was so in the judgment of those who were guided by an infallible Spirit, those who had most converse with God, and knew most of the mind of God; and those who had experience of both, and were in all respects the best, the most competent judges. If we appeal to them, this truth will quickly be put out of question. David, who has this testimony, that he was a man after God’s own heart, shows by his practice and testimony that this was God’s own mind. To what I have formerly produced to this purpose, let me add but one place, wherein he pregnantly and affectionately confirms this truth: Ps. 84:1, "how amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!" He speaks by way of interrogation, insinuating that they were amiable beyond his expression. You might better read this in his heart than in his language. Accordingly he adds, ver. 2, "My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." Oh what expressions! Longing; nothing else could satisfy. Fainting; it was his life; he was ready to faint, to die, for want of it: ver. 10, "I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." David was at this time a king, either actually or at least anointed; yet he professes he had rather be a doorkeeper where he might enjoy God in public, than a king where deprived of public worship. He would choose rather to sit at the threshold, as the original is, than to sit on a throne in the tents of wickedness, in those wicked, heathenish places where God was not publicly worshipped. Hezekiah and Josiah were the two kings of Judah of highest esteem with God, as he has made it known to the world by his testimony of them. Now what was their eminency but their zeal for God And where did their zeal appear, but for the public worship of God ? See it of Hezekiah, 2 Chron. 29:2, 8, "He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done. He, in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them." Of Josiah, chap. 34 and 35. The apostles also, and primitive Christians bear record of this. How careful were they of taking all opportunities that the word might be preached, the Lord worshipped in public! How many hazards did they run, how many dangers, how many deaths did they expose themselves to, by attempting to preach Christ in public! Their safety, their liberty, their lives, were not so dear to them as the public worship; whereas, if they would have been contented to have served the Lord in secret, it is probable they might have enjoyed themselves in peace and safety as well as others. The Lord Christ himself, how much soever above us, did not think himself above ordinances, though he knew them then expiring; nor did he withdraw from public worship, though then corrupted. Nay, he exhorts his disciples to hear them who publicly taught in Moses’s chair, though they had himself, a far better teacher. You find him frequently in the synagogues, frequently in the temple, always at the Passover; and his zeal for public worship was such, as they apply that of the psalmist to him, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up."

10. Public worship is the most available for the procuring of the greatest mercies, and preventing and removing the greatest judgments. The greatest, i.e. those that are most extensive, of universal consequence to a whole nation or a whole church. It is most effectual for the obtaining public mercies, for diverting public calamities, therefore to he preferred before private worship. This is the means the Lord prescribes for this end; and he encourages his people to the use thereof with promises of success: Joel 2:15-16, "Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctity a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders, sanctify the people," &c. There is the means prescribed: See the success, ver. 18-19, ad finem,. He assures them the issue hereof should be mercies of all sorts, temporal and spiritual, ordinary and extraordinary, and that to the whole nation. Jehoshaphat used this means, and found the success answerable: 2 Chron. 20:3-4, "he set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah," &c. This is the argument he uses, "Thy name is in this house," ver. 9. Immediately the Lord dispatches a prophet with a gracious answer: ver. 15, 17, "Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Stand still, and see the salvation of God." The event was wonderful: ver. 23-24, "The children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them. And when Judah came toward the watch-tower in the wilderness, they looked unto the multitude, and, behold, they were dead bodies." Nineveh bears witness to this, who hereby prevented her utter destruction, threatened by the prophet within forty days. Nor want we instances in the New Testament. Hereby the church prevailed for the miraculous deliverance of Peter, Acts 12:5. And wonderful were the effects hereof to the whole church: Acts 4:31, "When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and spake the word of God with boldness." So Rev. 8:4. There you have mention of the prayers of all saints, in a description after the form of public prayers, offered in the temple at the time of incense. And an answer is immediately returned, such as one its brought with it the destruction of that domineering Roman state which then persecuted them. Now, that which is of most public and universal advantage is worthily to be preferred; but such is public worship, and therefore to be preferred before private.

11. The precious blood of Christ is most interested in public worship, and that must needs be most valuable which lies most interest in that which is of infinite value. The blood of Christ has most influence upon public worship, more than on private; for the private duties of God’s worship, private prayers, meditation, and such like, had been required of, and performed by, Adam and his posterity, if he had continued in the state of innocence; they had been due by the light of nature, if Christ had never died, if life and immortality had never been brought to light by the gospel. But the public preaching of the gospel, and the administration of the federal seals, have a necessary dependence upon the death of Christ. As they are the representations, so they are the purchase of that precious blood; as Christ is hereby set forth as crucified before our eyes, so are they the purchase of Christ crucified, so are they the gifts of Christ triumphant. Conquerors used on the day of triumph, spargere missilia, to scatter gifts amongst the people. Answerably the apostle represents to us Christ in his triumph, Eph. iv., distributing gifts becoming such a triumph, such a conqueror: ver. 8, "When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." And those gifts, he tells us, ver. 12, are public officers, and consequently public ordinances to be administered by these officers. How valuable are those ordinances, which are the purchase of that precious blood, which are the gifts Christ reserved for the glory of his triumph!

12. The promises of God are more to public worship than to private. Those exceeding great and precious promises, wherever they are engaged, will turn the balance; but public worship has most interest in them, and therefore more to be valued than private. If I should produce all these promises which are made to the several ordinances, the several parts of public worship, I should rehearse to you a great part of the promissory part of Scripture. I shall but briefly touch some generals. The Lord promises his presence, in the places before alleged: Exod. 20:24, "In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee." Protection and direction: Isa. 4:5, "Upon all the glory shall be a defence." The Lord will be to the assemblies of his people as a pillar of cloud and fire. His presence shall be as much effectually to his people now as those pillars were then. "Upon all their glory." As formerly in the wilderness, the Lord, having filled the inside of the tabernacle with his glory, covered the outside of it with a thick cloud, Exod. 40:34, so will he secure his people and their glorious enjoyments in public worship. His presence within shall be as the appearance of his glory, to refresh them; his presence without shall be as a thick cloud to secure them, ver. 6, a tent. His presence shall be that to the assemblies of his people which the outward tent or coverings were to the tabernacle, Exod. 26:7.

Light, and life, and joy, and that in abundance, even to satisfaction, Ps. 36:8-9. Satisfied abundantly, and drink spiritual delights as out of a river. Life and growth: Isa. 4:2-3, "Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness," &c. Life and blessedness: Prov. 8:34-35, "Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me, findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord." Acceptance, Ezek. 20, 44:4. Spiritual communion and nourishment: Rev. 3:20, "behold I stand at the door and knock," &c. He speaks there to a church, and in public ordinances he knocks hardest. Grace and glory, yea, all things that are good. There is not a more full and comprehensive promise in the Scripture than that, Ps. 84:11, "No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." But what is this to public worship? Why, the whole psalm speaks of public worship; and therefore, by the best rule of interpretation, we must take this as promised to sincere walking with God in public worship. Besides, the particle for tells us this is given as the reason why David had such a high esteem of public worship, why he preferred one day in God’s house before a thousand; and therefore this promise must have reference to public worship, else there is no reason to use this as a reason. This promise is to public worship; and what is there in heaven or earth desirable that is not in this promise?

It is true, you may say, there are many great and precious promises to public worship, but are there not promises also to private duties ?

It is granted there are, but not so many, and the argument runs so. The promises are more to public worship than to private; besides, those which seem to be made to private duties are applicable to public worship, and that with advantage. If the interest of one saint in a promise be prevalent with God, how prevalent then are the united interests of many assembled together? So that all the promises which the people of God make use of to support their faith in private duties will afford as much support, nay more, in public. Then add to these the promises which are peculiar to public worship, and the sum will appear far greater, and this reason of great three to prove the truth propounded; that is most valuable which has the greatest share in those exceeding great and precious promises, but public worship has the greatest share in these, and therefore most valuable.

Obj. But notwithstanding all the arguments brought to prove public worship is to be preferred, I find something to the contrary in experience; and who can admit arguments against experience? I have sometimes in private more of God’s presence, more assistance of his Spirit, more joy, more enlargement, more raised affections; whereas in public I often find much dullness of heart, much straitness and unaffectedness, therefore I cannot freely yield that public worship is to be preferred.

Ans. I shall endeavor to satisfy this in many severals.

1. Experience is not a rule for your judgment, but the word of God; that is a fallible guide, this only infallible. If you press your judgment always to follow experience, Satan may quickly afford you such experience as will lead you out of the way. Be scrupulous of following experience when it goes alone, when it is not backed by the word, countenanced by Scripture. It has deceived many. Empirics are no more tolerable in divinity than in physic. As there reason and experience, so here Scripture and experience, should go together. Those that live by sense may admit this alone to be their guide, but the event has often proved it a blind one. Those that live by faith must admit no experiments against Scripture. Nay, those that are but true to reason will not admit a few experiments against many arguments. You find this sometimes true in private, but do you find it so ordinarily? If not, here is no ground to pass any judgment against what is delivered. It may be a purge or a vomit does sometimes tend more to your health than your meat and drink; will you therefore prefer physic before your ordinary food? It may be in some extremity of cold you find more refreshment from a fire than from the sun; will you therefore prefer the fire, and judge it more beneficial to the world than the sun? Experience must not rule your judgment here, nor must you be confident of such apprehensions as are only granted upon some few experiments.

2. It may be your enjoyments in private were upon some special occasion. Now some special cases make no general rule; nor are they sufficient promises to afford an universal conclusion. For instance, it may be you enjoyed so much of God in private, when you were necessarily and unavoidably hindered from waiting upon the Lord in public ordinances. Now in this case, when the people of God bewail the want of public liberties as an affliction, and seek the Lord in special manner to supply that want in private, he is graciously pleased to make up what they were deprived of in public, by the vouchsafements of his quickening and comforting presence in private. So it was with David in his banishment, yet this did nothing abate his esteem of or desires after the public ordinances; far was he from preferring private duties before public, though he enjoyed exceeding much of God in private. Nor must we from such particular cases draw an universal conclusion; either affirmatively, that private is to be preferred; or negatively, that public is not to he preferred.

3. These enjoyments of God in private may be extraordinary dispensations. These the Lord does sometimes use, though seldom, though rarely. Now, such extraordinary cases are exceptions from the general rule, and such exceptions do limit the rule, but not overthrow it. They take off something from the extent, nothing from the truth of it. It holds good still, more of God is enjoyed in public than private; except in rare extraordinary cases, ordinarily it is so. And this is sufficient, if there were no other argument to establish the observation as a truth, public worship is to be preferred before private.

4. It may be thy enjoyments in private are the fruits of thy attendance upon God in public. It may be the assistance, the enlargement, the affections thou findest in private duties, are the returns of public worship. The benefits of public ordinances are not all, nor always, received while ye are therein employed; the returns of them may be continued many days after. The refreshment the Lord affords his people in public worship is like the provision he made for Elijah in the wilderness, 1 Kings 19:18, "He arose and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days." When the Lord feasts his people in public, they may walk with the Lord in the strength thereof in private duties with more cheerfulness, with more enlargedness, more affection, many days after. Those that know what it is to enjoy communion with God in his ordinances, know this by experience. When the Lord meets you in public, find ye not your hearts far better disposed to, and in, private duties? Now, if the assistance you find in private be the fruits of your waiting upon God in public, this should rather raise your esteem of public worship than abate it. That which is objected tends to confirm this truth, so far should it be from hindering you to subscribe it.

5. There may be a deceit in the experience. All those joys, affections, enlargements, which men find in duties, are not always from the special presence of God. There may be a great flash of spirit, and much cheerfulness and activeness from false principles; some flashes of fleeting affections, some transient and fading impressions, may fall upon the hearts of men, and yet not fall from above. The gifts of men may be sometimes carried very high, even to the admiration of others, whereas there is little or no spiritual life. Vigor of nature, strength of parts, enforcement of conscience, outward respects, delusive joys, delusive visions, ungrounded fancies, deceiving dreams, yea, superstitious conceits, may work much upon men in duties when there is little or nothing of God. When men seem to be carried out with a full gale of assistance, it is not always the Spirit of God that fills the sails. A man may move with much life, freedom, cheerfulness, in spiritual duties, when motion is from other weights than those of the Spirit.

Nay, further, not only those potent workings which are ordinary, but extraordinary, such as ecstasies and raptures, wherein the soul is transported, so as to leave the body without its ordinary influence, so as it seems without sense or motion; such inward operations on the soul as work strange effects upon the body, visible in its disordered motions and incomposed gestures. Such workings as these have been in all ages, and may be now, from the spirit of darkness transforming himself into an angel of light; and therefore, if such private experiences be produced to disparage the public worship, the public ministry, or any other public ordinance of God (however they pretend to the Spirit of God), they are to be rejected. The deceits of our own hearts, or the delusions of that envious spirit, who has always showed his malice against God’s public worship, should not be admitted, to render this Scripture truth questionable, that public worship is to be preferred before private. And, indeed, the experiences of ordinary personal assistance in private duties, if it be made use of to this end, is to be looked upon as suspicious; you may suspect it is not as it seems, if this be the issue of it. Those assistances which come from the Spirit of God have a better tendency than to disparage the public worship of God, which himself is so tender of. And this should be the more regarded, because it is apparent Satan has a design against God’s public worship, and he drives it on in a subtler way than in darker times. He would thrust out one part of God’s worship by another, that so at last he may deprive us of all. Mind it, then, and examine thy experiences, if there be a deceit in them, as many times there is. They are of no force against this truth, public worship is to be preferred before private.

6. It may be the Lord seems to withdraw from thee, and to deny thee, spiritual assistance in public worship for trial; to try thy love to him, and the ways which most honor him; to see whether thou wilt withdraw from him and his worship, when he seems to withhold himself from thee; to try whether thou wilt serve God for nothing, when thou seemest to find nothing answerable to thy attendance and endeavors. This is the hour of England’s temptation in other things, and probably it is so in this as well as others. If it be so with thee, thy resolution should be that of the prophet, Isa. 8:17, "I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob." If this be thy cause, thy esteem of his public worship should hereby be rather raised than abated, since this is the way to comply with the Lord’s design in this dispensation, the way to procure more comfortable returns, more powerful assistance than ever.

7. You may enjoy more of God in public, and not observe it. As there may be a mistake in thinking you enjoy much of God in private when you do not, so there may be a mistake in thinking you want the presence of God in public when indeed you have it. It is not the improvement of parts, enlargement of heart, flashes of joy, stirrings of affections, that argue most of God’s presence; there may be much of these when there is little of God. It is a humble soul, one that is poor in spirit, that trembles at the word, that hungers and thirsts after Christ, that is sensible of spiritual wants and distempers, that is burdened with his corruptions, and laments after the Lord and freer enjoyments of him. He whose heart is soft and pliable, whose conscience is tender, it is he who thrives and prospers in the inward man. And if these be the effects of thy attendance upon God in public worship, thou dost there enjoy much of God’s presence, whatever thou apprehend to the contrary. These are far more valuable than those affections and enlargements by which some judge of the Lord’s presence in his ordinances; for these are the sound fruits of a tree of righteousness, whereas those are but the leaves or flourishes of it, which you may sometimes find in a barren tree. Be far as the Lord upholds in thee a poor and hungering spirit, a humble and thirsting heart, so far he is graciously present with thee; for this is it to which he has promised a gracious presence in his ordinances, Isa. 65:1-2. The Lord speaks here as though he were not so much taken with the glory of the temple, no, not with the glory of heaven, as with a spirit of this temper. As sure as the Lord’s throne is in heaven, this soul shall have his presence. The streams of spiritual refreshments from his presence shall water these valleys, whereas high-flown confidents, that come to the ordinances with high conceits and carnal boldness, shall be as the mountains, left dry and parched. See Matt. 5:3-6. You may enjoy the presence of God in public, and not observe it. Now, if thy experience be a mistake, no reason it should hinder thee from yielding to this truth, that public worship is to be preferred before private.

8. It is to be suspected that what you want of God’s presence, in public worship, is through your own default. Not because more of God is not to be enjoyed, more spiritual advantage is not to be gained in public ordinances, but because, through some sinful miscarriage, you make yourselves incapable thereof. Let this be observed, and your ways impartially examined; and you will find cause to accuse yourselves, instead of objecting anything against the preeminence of public worship. There is so much self-love in us, as we are apt to charge anything, even the worship of God itself, rather than ourselves; yea, when ourselves ought only to be charged and accused. The Lord’s hand is not straitened, &c. The worship of God is the same, the Lord as much to be enjoyed in it; no less comfort and advantage to be found in it than formerly (and formerly more has been enjoyed therein than in private); how comes it, then, that there is any occasion to object against it? Why, our iniquities have separated between us and our God.

Let our hearts and ways be searched, and all, or most of all those, who have any temptation to object against it, will find it thus, and may discern the reason in themselves.

Do ye not undervalue the public worship, and the enjoyment of God in it? Are ye not many times indifferent, whether ye enjoy it or no? Is it a sad affliction to your souls, when ye leave the ordinances, without enjoying God in them? Have ye bewailed it accordingly? If not, you have too low thoughts of spiritual enjoyments to have much of them. Do ye think God will cast such pearls before swine, such precious things before those who trample on them, who contemn them?

Do ye not entertain some prejudice against some public ordinances, or against the public minister? Even this is enough to render them less comfortable, less effectual. Why was the public ministry of Christ less effectual amongst his own countrymen? Why were they possessed with prejudices against him? Mat. 13:55.

Have ye not neglected the public worship? Have ye absented yourselves from the ordinances without any necessary occasion? Oh how common is this sin! and how justly chastised, when the Lord absents himself from them, who are so willingly absent from his public worship. When you withdraw from the public ordinances, you withdraw from God; and is not here reason enough for the Lord to withdraw from you?

Come ye not unprepared, with slight and careless hearts, without due apprehensions, either of the Lord or of yourselves? This is to affront his majesty, this lays his honor low, Mal. 1:6. No wonder if ye find not that power and quickening virtue in the ordinances; you may find the reason in yourselves; you hereby provoke the Lord to withdraw from them, and yea in them.

Where are your desires after public ordinances, after the presence of God in them, after the spiritual advantages of them? Can ye say with him, "One thing I have desired, and that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord," etc. Can ye say, "As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God? My soul thirsteth for God, when shall I come and appear before God?" Can you say, " My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee, to see thy glory," &c. Can ye say, "My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." Oh, were there but such desires, there would be few such complaints, few such objections. Were there such desires, the Lord would quickly clothe his public ordinances with their wonted glory and power, cause to say, Nunquam abs te, absque te. But is it not reason they should not enjoy much, who desire so little?

Do ye not give way to deadness, slothfulness, carelessness in public worship? Do you stir up yourselves to lay hold on God? It is the diligent hand that makes rich. "He becomes poor that dealeth with a slack band," Prov. 10:4. If the ordinances come not to you, as a ship laden with precious treasures, blame your negligence: Heb. 11:6, "He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."

Do ye come in faith? Do your thoughts and hearts work upon a promise, when you are going to public ordinances? You know who said it, "Except ye believe, ye shall not see the power of God." If Christ could do no mighty works, because of their unbelief, what think ye the ordinances can do?

Do ye not come for by-ends, come for something else, something worse, than that which you complain you find not? Come ye not for custom, because it is the fashion, and shame not to come to it? Come ye not to avoid the censure, the offense, the displeasure of others? Come ye not to stop the mouth of conscience, to avoid its clamors? Come ye not for niceties, notions, novelties, as those who seek a fine weed rather than the ears of corn? Come for what you will, if ye come not to meet with God, to get life, to be filled with the Spirit, is it not reason why you should go without them?

Do ye not neglect the after improvement of public ordinances? Neglect ye not to draw out the efficacy of them in secret, by prayer, meditation, and the exercise of faith? Think ye the act done is sufficient, laboring for nothing but what ye find in the present exercise? Do ye think your work done when the minister has done? Oh no. If you would enjoy God in the word, then your work should begin. The ordinances are like grapes; it is not enough that they are given into your hands; if you would have the sweetness and nourishment of them, they must be pressed, that is your work in secret. The negligence, carelessness, slothfulness of men in not improving public ordinances in secret, causes him to withdraw himself, and his blessing in public.

These, and such evils, provoke the Lord to deny his presence, withhold the comforts and blessed advantages of public worship; so as others may enjoy more hereof in private than those that are herein guilty do find in public. You need but read your own hearts for an answer to this objection; it is not because the Lord is less to be found in public than in private, that you find less of him there, but because you make yourselves incapable of enjoying him, until to find him.

9. Suppose what is alleged were true, that you did find more joys, enlargement, assistance in private, that there was no mistake in these experiences, and that they were ordinary, which I am far from granting, yet, allowing all the advantage imaginable in this respect to private duties, this notwithstanding, public worship is to be preferred, for divers other unanswerable reasons formerly given. I will but now instance in two. Public worship is a more public good, it is more edifying, the advantage more common and extensive, the benefit more universal, and therefore to be preferred before private, as much as an universal benefit is to be preferred before a particular, a public good before a private. He is a man unworthy to live in a commonwealth, who will prefer his private interests before the public good. It is a nobleness of spirit to be public-spirited; the light of nature discovers an excellency in it, religion and gospel principles much more require it, and the Lord himself does commend and encourage it with special rewards. Those that profess themselves to be servants of God should be ashamed to be outvied herein by heathen. Our first question should not be, Where may I receive most good? But where may I do most good? The saving of souls should be preferred before our comforts, and that advantage most valued which is most extensive and universal. Such is the advantage of public ordinances, and therefore they are as far to be preferred before private, as the public good before a man’s private interest.

Then suppose you found more comfort, enlargement in private than in public worship, yet the glory of God is to be preferred before your advantages; and therefore that whereby his glory is most advanced, before that wherein your particular interest is most promoted. But God is most glorified in public worship; here is given the most ample testimony to his glorious excellencies, here is the most public acknowledgment of his glory. No otherwise can we glorify him than by acknowledging his glory, and the more public this acknowledgment is, the more is he glorified; but it is most public in public worship, and therefore this is as much to be preferred before private, as the glory of God before your private advantage.

Use 1. Reproof to those that undervalue public worship. Too many there are worthy of this reproof, especially two sorts:

1. Those that prefer worse things before public worship. If it be to be preferred before private duties, which are excellent and singularly advantageous in themselves, how heinously do they sin who prefer things that are base and sinful before public ordinances; those who prefer their case, their worldly employments, their lusts or unlawful recreations, before them!

Do not they prefer their ease before the worship of God, who will not take the pains, who will excuse themselves by very slight and trivial occasions from coming to the place of public worship? The Lord has not made the way to his worship so tedious, so toilsome, as it was under the law; there is not the distance of many miles betwixt us and it, nor will it cost us divers days’ journey to have the opportunities of public worship; we have it at our doors. And yet such slothfulness, such contempt there is of it, as we will scarce sometimes stir out of doors to enjoy these blessed liberties; a little rain, a little cold, anything of like moment, we take for a sufficient excuse to be absent. The people of God, in former times, counted it their happiness that they might come to the public ordinances, though through rain, and cold, and wearisome journeys, Ps. 84. But where is this zeal for God’s worship now? Is there not much less, when the gospel engages us to much more ? May not even the unbelieving Jews rise up in judgment against the slothfulness of this generation, and condemn it? No such thing would hinder them from coming to the gates of Zion at the appointed seasons, how far soever their habitations were distant from it, how unseasonable soever the season seemed; yet many amongst us make every sorry thing a lion in the way, prefer their sloth and ease before God’s public worship.

Others prefer their worldly occasions before the public worship of God, willingly embrace any earthly business offered to stay from the ordinances. Esau was stigmatized as a profane person for preferring the pottage before his birthright; but they exceed Esau in profaneness who prefer the things of the world before this singular prerogative, of worshipping God in public. What a special privilege is this! How few are they in the world [who] enjoy it! Does the Lord vouchsafe this honor, to have it, and himself in it contemned? Of thirty parts, into which the world may be divided, twenty-five are pagans or Mahometans, wholly without the true worship of God; but five bear the name of Christian. And of those, when you have discounted the Greeks, Papists, Abassines, amongst whom the worship of God is woefully corrupted, you may judge to how small a part of mankind the Lord has vouchsafed his public worship in its purity. It is a special, a peculiar favour, a singular prerogative. Oh what profaneness is it, to prefer outward things, such as are common to all, to the worst of all, before this peculiar blessing! Yet how common is this profaneness! The thinness of our assemblies does daily testify it. One part of the day is thought enough by some, too much by others, for God’s public worship; whereas we think nothing too much for the world. Oh the Lord’s infinite patience!

Others prefer their lust before it; had rather sit in an ale-house, or in the seat of scorners, than wait at the posts of wisdom. Many had rather spend that time which the Lord has allotted for their souls, in sports and recreations, than in the public worship; think one whole day in seven too much, will rob God of all, or part of it, to recreate themselves. Oh that such profaneness should be so common where the light of the gospel has so long shined! The Lord prefers the gates of Zion, but these prefer Meshech and the tents of Kedar. I beseech you, consider the heinousness of this sin. The Lord styles his worship his name frequently in Scripture, as though his worship were as dear to him as himself. What do ye then but contemn God himself, while ye despise his worship? He that speaks it of his officers has the same account of his ordinances: he that despiseth them despiseth me, &c. And what do ye think it is to despise Christ? How jealous has the Lord always showed himself of his worship! Some of the most remarkable judgments we meet with in Scripture have been inflicted for some miscarriage about his worship. For this Nadab and Abihu consumed with fire from heaven, for this Eli’s family utterly ruined, for this Uzziah smitten with leprosy and Uzzah with sudden death, Michal with barrenness, for an error in the outward part of worship. The Lord is a jealous God, jealous especially over his worship. If you despise that, you are in danger; his jealousy will burn like fire against you. Now, do ye not despise it, when you prefer your ease, worldly affairs, lusts, idleness, recreations before it? This is to profane the holy, the glorious name of God. And the Lord will not hold him guiltless; it is a meiosis; the Lord will certainly judge, surely condemn, him that does so.

2. They deserve reproof who prefer private before public worship, or equal with it. I shall but instance in two particulars, wherein this is evident.

(1) When private duties are used in the time and place of public worship. Now, how ordinary is this amongst us! When you come too late to wait upon God, after the public worship is begun, I see it is common to fall to your private prayers, whatever public ordinance be in hand. Now, what is this but to prefer your private praying before the public worship, and so to despise the ordinance in hand? What is it but to thrust public worship out of its season, and put private in its room? It is held indeed a great point of devotion and reverence, that is the pretense for it; but this pretended reverence casts a real disrespect upon the public ordinance then used. For the mind is withdrawn from it in the sight of God, and the outward man in the sight of men; and so public worship is hereby disrespected, in the sight both of God and men.

The intention may be good indeed, but that cannot justify what is sinful, what is evil; for we must not do evil that good may come of it. And this is evil, it is sinful, since it is sinful to prefer a private duty before a public ordinance.

It is against the apostle’s rule, which he prescribes for the regulating of public assemblies: 1 Cor. 14:40, "Let all things be done decently and in order." Now that is not done in order, which is not done in its place and season; but this is neither the place nor season for private prayers; it is the time of public worship, therefore private is now unseasonable. Nor is this the place of private prayer; that is thy closet, according to Christ’s direction, Mat. 6:6; and he makes it the badge of hypocrites, to use their private prayers in public places, ver. 5. A good thing, out of its place and season, may become evil, evil in the worst sense, that is, sinful. This is not the place, the time for your private prayers, therefore it is a disorder here to use them; and what is here disorderly, is, by the apostle’s rule, sinful, and therefore I beseech you let it be avoided. Do not expect the Lord will accept your private devotion, when it casts disrespect upon his public worship, which he himself prefers, and will have us to prefer before private.

(2.) When men absent themselves from public worship, under pretense that they can serve the Lord at home as well in private. How many are apt to say, they see not but, their time may be as well spent at home, in praying, reading some good book, or discoursing on some profitable subject, as in the use of ordinances in public assemblies! They see not but private prayer may be as good to them as public, or private reading and opening the Scripture as profitable as public preaching; they say of their private duties, as Naaman of the waters of Damascus, 2 Kings 5:12. May I not serve the Lord as acceptably, with as much advantage, in private exercises of religion? May I not wash in these and be clean? They see not the great blessings God has annexed to public worship more than to private. Oh, but if it be thus, if one be as good as the other, what means the Lord to prefer one before the other? To what purpose did the Lord choose the gates of Zion, to place his name there, if he might have been worshipped as well in the dwellings of Jacob? How do men of this conceit run counter to the Lord? He prefers the gates of Zion, not only before one or some, but before all the dwellings of Jacob; and they prefer one such dwelling before the gates of Zion. What is this but to disparage the wisdom of God, in preferring one before another when both are equal; in preferring that which is unworthy to be preferred? What presumption is this, to make yourselves wiser than God, and to undertake to correct him? He says the gates of Zion are to be loved, public worship before private; you say no, you see no reason but one should be loved as well as the other. Who art thou, O man, who thus disputest against God?

To conclude this use, let me show you the sinfulness of preferring private worship before public, in the aforementioned or other respects, by applying what has been delivered. To prefer private before public, or by not preferring public before private, in your judgment, affection, or practice, you neglect the glory of God, which is here most advanced; you slight the presence of God, which is here most vouchsafed, that presence which is the greatest happiness the people of God can expect, in heaven or on earth. You undervalue the manifestation of God, those blessed visions of life and peace, which are most evidently, most comfortably, here represented; those manifestations which are the dawnings of approaching glory, the first glimpses of the beatifical vision. You contemn those blessed soul advantages which are here more plentifully gained; you prefer a private supposed benefit before public edification; you expose yourselves to the danger of backsliding, which is here more effectually prevented; you contemn the Lord’s greatest works upon the souls of sinners, which are here ordinarily effected; you slight heaven, which is here in a more lively manner resembled; you disparage the judgment of the most renowned servants of God, who in all ages have confirmed this truth by their testimony or practice; you make yourselves less capable of procuring public mercies, or diverting public calamities, slighting the means most conducive to this end; you undervalue the blood of Christ, whose influence is here most powerful; you despise those great and precious promises of the gospel, which are more engaged for public worship than private. Oh, consider how heinous that sin is, which involves the soul in so much guilt, which is attended with so many provoking evils; bewail this sin, so far as thou art guilty of it, and let the sinfulness thereof engage thee to be watchful against it.

Use 2, of exhortation. Be exhorted to give to the public worship of God the glory that is due to it; let it have the pre-eminence which the Lord has given it; prefer it before private, in your thoughts, in your affections, in your practice. Get higher thoughts of public ordinances, get affections answerable to those apprehensions; manifest both by a frequent affectionate use of these ordinances, by your praises for the enjoyment, by your prayers for the continuance of them. A duty this is which the text requires, a duty which these times call for. When there is so much disrespect cast upon the worship of God, your endeavors should be more for the advancement of it. This is the way to show yourselves faithful to God, steadfast and upright, in the midst of a declining generation. This duty always finds acceptance with God; but now he will take it better, because there is a stream of temptation, of opposition against it. Oh let not your souls enter into their secret, who dishonor God, by despising his public worship; who blaspheme God, by speaking contemptibly of his name, that name which he records amongst us, and thereby does graciously distinguish us from the neglected world. I might enforce this with many motives; but what more forcible than this in the text? "The Lord loves the gates of Zion, more than all the dwellings of Jacob." Those that thus do are herein like the Lord. This is the highest pitch of excellency that angels or men can aspire to, to be conformable to the Lord, to be like him, to have any resemblance of him. Why, this is the way; when we thus love, prefer the public worship, the like mind is in us that is in the Lord (so far as likeness may be admitted, where there is an infinite distance), herein you will be followers of God as dear children. Whereas those who despise the public worship of God, despise God himself, comply with Satan in one of his most mischievous designs against God and his people, and hereby do what in them lies to lay his honor in the dust. It is not out of any respect of private duties that Satan endeavors to advance them above public worship; his design is to withdraw professors from both, he knows they stand or fall together, and the event proves it. You will find those that withdraw from public worship will not long make conscience of private; except the Lord break Satan’s design, by a sudden reducing them. If you will not be carried away with the error of the wicked, and fall into the snare of the devil, keep up the honor of public worship. To that end observe these directions.

1. Get high thoughts of God. The Lord and his worship are so nearly related, as they are either esteemed or despised together. He that has high thoughts of God, will have suitable apprehensions of his worship, wherein his glory most appears, Ps. 102:16. We see it in David. None had higher apprehensions of God; see with what raised expressions he extols him, Ps. 146. And none had a higher esteem of public worship, as appears in those affectionate expressions formerly alleged. If you have high thoughts of God, that will be of high esteem with you, wherein he most appears, wherein he is most enjoyed. "In the temple will every one speak of his glory," for in public worship he appears most glorious. If ye have low thoughts of God, no wonder if you undervalue his worship! If you have a high esteem of God, you will have an answerable esteem of his name, of his worship. So Ps. 48, they profess their high thoughts of Zion, the public ordinances, ver. 2-3, and the reason you may see: ver. 9, "We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of thy temple!" If you apprehend God as great, and holy, and fearful, and glorious, it will help you to such thoughts of his worship as becomes his great, and holy, and fearful name. It is worship is his name.

2. Get due apprehensions of those things, whereupon the pre-eminence of public worship is grounded. It follows, ver. 3, "Glorious things," &c., i.e. of the church and ordinances of God. It was the city of God in these respects, and in no other respect could so glorious things be spoken of it. Here is the sweetest enjoyment of God, the clearest discoveries of his glory, the powerful workings of the Spirit, the precious blood of Christ in its force and efficacy, the exceeding great and precious promises in their sweetest influences, spiritual life and strength, soul comforts and refreshments, the conversion of sinners, the edification of the body of Christ, the salvation of souls. These are the glorious things that are spoken of public worship; get a high esteem of these, and public worship will be highly valued. Look upon public ordinances in their glory, as they give the greatest glory to the God of heaven, as they are the greatest glory of his people on earth, and this will raise a spiritual mind to high apprehensions of them. Will you not honor that which is most honorable to God, that which is your greatest honor ? Here the Lord, if anywhere in the world, receives the glory due unto his name, Ps. 29:1-2. To worship God in public is the way to give him the glory due to his name; and is not this of highest value? It is your glory too. Public ordinances are the glory of the people that enjoy, that improve them. Where the Lord has placed his name, there his honor dwells. When the Lord has erected his public worship in a place, then glory dwells in that land; when this is removed, the glory is departed. That which is most your glory, challenges your highest esteem. Look upon this as your glory, and then you will account it highly valuable.

3. Delight in the worship of God. We soon disrespect that which we take no pleasure in; and, therefore, when the Lord is commanding the sanctifying of his Sabbath, he joins these: Isa. 58:18, "If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable," &c. If it be not your delight, it will not be honorable. If you be of their temper who say, "When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn; and the Sabbath, that we may set forth wheat?" Amos 8:5; if public ordinances, praying, preaching, be a burden to you: not only private duties, but the base tillage of the world, will take place of it in your minds and hearts. When we are weary of a thing, take no pleasure in it, we easily give way to any suggestion that may disparage it. Let the worship of God be your delight, the joy and solace of your souls. Be glad of all opportunities to worship God in public, in season, and out of season, like David: Ps. 122:1, "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go unto the house of the Lord." Let it be your meat and drink to be thus employed; go, as to a feast; sit down under the shadow with great delight, while the fruits of ordinances, the shadow of heavenly enjoyments, are sweet.

4. Get spiritual hearts. All the glory of public worship is spiritual, and spiritual things are spiritually discerned, 1 Cor. 2:14. A carnal man cannot discern that which renders the public ordinances so highly valuable. Custom, and other respects, may persuade him to use them, but he will never perceive the glory, the spiritual value of God’s worship, till he have a spiritual eye. Christ himself was foolishness to the Greeks, because they saw no further than his outside, 1 Cor. 1:23. So was the preaching of Christ to carnal Jews and Gentiles; so it is, more or less, to all natural men, except some outward respect, some plausible ornament commend it. A spiritual eye can discern a glory in public worship, when the outside seems mean and contemptible. As the unbelieving Jews of Christ, so carnal men of his ordinances; there is no form nor comeliness therein to command any extraordinary respect; they see no beauty therein that they should desire them.

5. Look upon the public ordinances with the eye of faith. If you consult only with sense, you will be apt to say as the Assyrian, What are the waters of Jordan more than the rivers of Damascus? What is there in public reading the word, more than reading at home? What is there in public preaching, more than in another good discourse? Sense will discern no more in one than in the other; but the eye of faith looks through the prospect of a promise, and so makes greater, more glorious discoveries; passes through the mean outside, to the discovery of a special, an inward glory; sees a special blessing, a special assistance, a special presence, a special advantage, in public worship; no way so discoverable as by the eye of faith through a promise. Unbelievers want this perspective, and therefore see no further than the outside.

Faith can see the wisdom of God in that preaching, which the blind world counts foolishness, as they did the apostle’s; can see a glory in those ordinances which, in the eyes of carnal men, are mean and contemptible. When the child Jesus lay in the manger, a poor, despicable condition, the wise men saw, through those poor swaddling cloths, such a glory as commanded their wonder and adoration, whereas many others, in the same inn, saw no such thing. And why so? The wise men looked upon the child Jesus through that intimation, that word from heaven, whereby he was made known to them. The outside of public worship, now under the gospel, is but like those poor swaddling clothes; but Christ is wrapped in them, there is a spiritual glory within, which a believer discerns, and accordingly values them, whereas an unbeliever sees no such thing. That worship, which, to sense and unbelief is mean and contemptible, is to faith, looking through a promise, the most glorious administration under heaven. The eye of faith must be opened, else the ordinances will not be valued. The Lord has given more encouragements to faith under the gospel, and therefore may expect more exercise of it, than under the law. And his dispensations are answerable. His children under the law were in their minority and nonage, Gal. 4:1. The outside of his worship was then glorious, the administration of it in state and pomp, he allowed the children that which would please their senses; but now, under the gospel, they are come to riper age, he allows no such gay outside, prescribes no such pomp as sense is taken with; the glory is spiritual, and such as is only visible to faith. And yet the glory of the second temple is greater than the first, the public worship under the gospel is more glorious than under the law. Though there be no golden censer in the ark, overlaid with gold, no cherubims of glory shadowing the mercy-seat, no such ornament to take the senses, yet there is a far more exceeding glory, 2 Cor. 3:11, but it is such a glory as is only discerned by the eye of faith. This you must exercise if you would give to the public worship of God the glory that is due to it.

6. Labor to draw out the virtue and efficacy of public ordinances, to make the utmost improvements of them. When you find the refreshing comforts, the blessed advantages of public worship, you will not need many motives to give them their due honor: Ps. 48:8, "As we have heard, so have we seen," &c. When they had not only heard, but seen, what God was to his people in his public worship, no wonder if they express their high esteem of it: ver. 1-3, "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion," &c.

Now, that you may reap such advantage by them as may raise your esteem of them,

1. Come not unprepared. No wonder if unfruitfulness under the ordinances be so common, when neglect of preparation is so ordinary: Eccles. v. 2, "Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God." Come not rashly, without due consideration with whom you have to do, and what you are a-doing. Come not with guilt and pollution upon your consciences, Ezek. 23:21, 29. This is it from which we must be separate, if we would have God receive us, 2 Cor. 6:17. Come not with minds and affections entangled in the world: "Put off thy shoes," &c. Come not with careless, indisposed spirits, with hearts unfixed, Ps. 57:7. Come not with that carnal, dull temper, which your hearts contract by meddling with the world. Plough up the fallow ground. If you sow among thorns, you will reap little to raise your esteem: Ps. 26:6, "I will wash mine hands in innocency, so will I compass thine altar, O Lord." He alludes to the custom of the priests, enjoined under the law to wash their hands and feet, when they went about the service of the tabernacle. And this was exemplary to the people then. to us now, to teach us with what preparedness we should approach God.

2. Get acquainted with your spiritual condition. Come apprehensive of the state of your souls, whether it be the state of grace or nature, what your spiritual wants, what your inward distempers, what your temptations are; else you may hear much to little purpose, not discerning what is seasonable; else many a petition may pass unobserved, when you know not what most concerns you. Oh, if professors knew their soul’s condition punctually, and were throughly affected with it, the word would come in season, it would he like apples of gold, the ordinances would be as rain upon the new-mown grass, they would distill a fruitful influence, and their souls would grow as the lily.

3. Come with hearts hungering after the enjoyment of Christ in his ordinances. This affection has the promise: Mat. 5, "He fiIleth the hungry with good things." [Ed. Clarkson seems here to refer to Luke 1:53, and not Matthew 5.] Sense of emptiness and indigence brings you under the aspect of this promise, under the sweet and gracious influences of it; whereas conceitedness of our own abundance, senselessness of our spiritual poverty, shuts up the treasury of heaven against us, "The rich he sends empty away," Ps. 81:10. Our souls should stretch themselves wide open, in earnest longings after God; this is the way to be filled with the rich blessings of spiritual ordinances.

4. Use the ordinances with holy fear and reverence, Ps. 2:11, and 3:7. That confidence which the Lord approves in his children is not a carnal boldness, such as some mistake in the room of it. When we are admitted to most intimacy and familiarity with Christ, when we are invited to kiss the Son; yet there is a holy fear required: ‘serve the Lord with fear," &c. When we have cause to rejoice in the Lord’s gracious condescension to us poor worms, yet then we must tremble in apprehension of that overpowering glory and excellency to which we approach, Heb. 12:28. The house, which the Lord prefers before the temple, is a trembling heart, Isa. 66. And if he choose it for his habitation, he will richly furnish it; his presence will be to it light and life, joy and strength, grace and glory.

5. What you do in public worship, do it with all your might. Shake off that slothful, indifferent, lukewarm temper, which is so odious to God. Let your whole man tender this worship. Think it not enough to present your bodies before the Lord. Bodily worship profits as little as bodily exercise. The worship of the body is but the carcass of worship; it is soul worship that is the soul of worship. Those that draw near with their lips only shall find God far enough from them; not only lips, and mouth, and tongue, but mind, and heart, and affections; not only knee, and hand, and eye, but heart, and conscience, and memory, must be pressed to attend upon God in public worship. David says, not only "my flesh longs for thee," but "my soul thirsts for thee." Then will the Lord draw near, when our whole man waits on him; then will the Lord be found, when we seek him with our whole heart.

Let your whole man wait upon God; serve him so with all your might. Let his worship be your work, and be as diligent in it for your souls, as you are in other employments for your bodies. Spiritual slothfulness is the ruin of souls, it brings them to consumptions. It leaves them languishing under sad distempers. Those that will not stir up themselves to lay hold on God, will be bowed down under many infirmities. Soul-poverty will be the issue of spiritual sloth, Prov. 18, "a great waster." So far from increasing the stock of grace, as he will greatly waste it, Prov. 20:4. It holds in a spiritual sense. His soul shall be in a beggarly condition, as though it had nothing, even in harvest, in the midst of plenty, when others are reaping the sweet fruits of public ordinances, and laying up store against winter, against an evil day. In the midst of their plenty, the spiritual sluggard shall have nothing, Prov. 12:17. It is the diligent man that shall be enriched with precious substance, even the precious advantages of public worship. The Lord is the rewarder of those that seek him diligently. Those that are diligent in preparing for it, diligent in attending on it, diligent in after improvement of the ordinances, this man’s soul shall be rich, rich towards God. The Lord will bless him with such spiritual riches, in the use of public ordinances, as will raise his esteem of them.

From: The Practical Works of David Clarkson, B.D.

Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1865. VOL. III.